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Portrait of an Iraqi refugee in Amman: A cancer patient's struggle

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In honor of World Refugee Day, Refugees International is sharing the story of this Iraqi refugee to highlight the plight of the more than 4 million people who have been displaced since 2003 by the conflict in Iraq. Refugees International is currently on a mission to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon to assess the needs of Iraqi refugees and identify effective solutions to this crisis. We continue to call on the U.S. to increase assistance to countries who are hosting Iraqi refugees, provide more funding to UN agencies who provide assistance to Iraqi refugees and to resettle the most vulnerable Iraqis here in the US.

Laila's anger is palpable. She is tired of meetings and questions, and she can barely afford the cab ride to this interview. Frustrated and weary, she looks for a glimmer of hope as a result of her efforts -- waiting for badly needed assistance for herself and her family -- but her situation only becomes more precarious by the day.

Laila is living with cancer. She had surgery several years ago in Baghdad, receiving full treatment and medication there. But since fleeing Iraq, the few sources of medical assistance that exist for Iraqi refugees have turned her away without help.

Laila arrived in Amman, Jordan, in early 2006. Before then, she lived in Baghdad, where her husband was an architect, her daughter worked as an engineer, and her two young sons attended school. But as the violence worsened, life in Baghdad became increasingly difficult. All around them, friends and loved ones were being threatened and killed. After the bombing of her son's school, Laila, her husband and two sons fled to Jordan, leaving her daughter to continue working in Baghdad.

Laila quickly learned that while she fled violence, she arrived in a still very uncertain and unstable environment. A trickle of assistance is available for the estimated 700,000 Iraqis who have fled to Jordan, but Laila and her family continue to be rebuffed. Without legal residence, Iraqis are not allowed employment. Neither Laila nor her husband is able to earn any sort of income to support their family, despite their desire to work.

Her two sons, now aged 13 and 8, cannot go to public school also because of residency requirements, and paying for private school is out of the question. The boys received good grades when they were in school in Baghdad, but now they are at least one year behind their grade level and their options remain unclear. With no other support available, Laila relies on the sole help of her daughter's husband, an American living in the United States who is sending the family just enough to live month-to-month. But she fears that if her daughter is able to be resettled in the U.S. with her husband, then he will stop sending money.

Laila's over-the-counter medication needs, for which she is paying approximately US$50 per month, are becoming increasingly burdensome. Transportation to the hospital is an expense that she simply cannot afford. Her sister, who is still living in Baghdad with their elderly mother, manages to send her medication for now.

"If I was on my own, I would return to Baghdad so that I could receive my medical treatment," Laila said. "But with two young sons I cannot risk it." And so the weeks and months ahead are filled with frustrating uncertainty.